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Wisdom of Crowds

Jul 21, 2022

We return to a question that the Crowd has been chewing over for the last month or so: why do things– political systems, regimes, parties– change? Do ideas really change the world? And can individual actions really have any effect on larger systems?

Climate change, and whether we think world governments can mend their ways in time to avert the worst of the crisis, begins the discussion. We discuss whether governments will ever be able to cooperate to the extent needed to "solve" climate change (Damir, predictably, is less sanguine) and whether humanity will find some way to muddle through. Have we, as a species, finally run into a Malthusian limit on progress? How much faith should we have in the prospect of progress?

We later move into a wider ranging discussion of the role of ideas in world politics, and whether the modern world is heavily influenced by abstract ideas, as authors like Francis Fukuyama would argue. Shadi also talks about his personal effort to get his own ideas across– and hopefully accepted by– to American policymakers, in the face of political systems that seem unbearably sluggish and unresponsive.

Finally, in the bonus portion of the episode, available here for subscribers, we use the proliferation of diverse candidates in the Tory leadership race as a springboard into a discussion of democracy. Does the handpicked selection of women and minorities for leadership by party leaders in the United Kingdom showcase the virtues of democracy? Or does its top-down nature show how non-democratic means are sometimes needed to achieve social goods?

Required Reading:

A sample of the Matt Yglesias tweets about European appliances.

"One Billion Americans," by Matt Yglesias (Amazon).

"The Great Stagnation," by Tyler Cowen (Amazon).

Part 2 of our episode with Ross Douthat, wherein we discuss aliens.

Shadi's article about democratic backsliding in Tunisia (The Washington Post).

Elon Musk's thoughts on having 10 children (The New York Post).

"The Origins of Political Order," and "Political Order and Political Decay," by Francis Fukuyama (Both on Amazon).

Our latest Q&A.

John Bolton discussing coups with Jake Tapper.

"The Problem of Democracy," Shadi's forthcoming book (Amazon).